IntroductionAs shape the future of STEM (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/owen-charters/kids-first-federal-budget_b_15548940.html?utm_hp_ref=ca-stem-education).

   IntroductionAs the fierce global competition for
technological advances and intellectual property drive the knowledge-based
economy, countries around the world are realizing the importance of science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education (Lemelson-MIT Program. (2010, January 29). Survey reveals
ways to enhance teens’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2017, from
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100128091744.htm). In Canada, the
Minister of Science, Kristy Duncan, stresses the importance of encouraging
innovation to drive and sustain our knowledge economy through essential
breakthroughs in the STEM disciplines. In particular, Duncan emphasizes the
importance of fostering a culture of curiosity for knowledge and innovation in
Canada’s youth population (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kirsty-duncan-/canadian-science-odyssey_b_16625228.html?utm_hp_ref=ca-stem-education).
The Canadian government has and continues to organize and support various
initiatives such as Canada 2067, Youth STEM, and Science Odyssey to equip
Ontario youth with creative minds and strong 21st century skills to shape
the future of STEM (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/owen-charters/kids-first-federal-budget_b_15548940.html?utm_hp_ref=ca-stem-education). It is not only in Duncan’s mandate but in the
agenda’s of many organizations, companies, and school boards, to promote and
encourage an education and career in STEM.  Ontario
Research FundThrough the Ontario Research Fund, the
Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Science (MRIS) is responsible for
supporting Ontario’s research institutions, achieve world-class research
excellence, and build research capacity within the province and through
international collaboration. The Ontario Research Fund is a research funding
mechanism that the provincial government uses in order to maximize the impact
of research projects and ensure they provide strategic value to the province (http://www.infogo.gov.on.ca/infogo/#orgProfile/4086/en).  There are three different programs under
the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) supporting researchers at different stages in
their careers; however, the two that will be discussed in this report are the
Ontario Research Fund – Research Excellence (ORF-RE) program and the Early
Researcher Awards (ERA).  The ORF-RE
program provides funding to support the operational costs of large-scale research
of strategic value for established researchers based in Ontario (https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-research-fund-research-excellence).  The Early Researcher Awards program provides
funding for new  researchers working at
publicly funded Ontario research institutions to build their research team and
train highly qualified personnel (HQP) (https://www.ontario.ca/page/early-researcher-awards).    In both these ORF programs, there is a
youth outreach and engagement section in the program guideline that researchers
are required to complete in their proposals. This component of the application serves
to uphold the minister’s mandate on cultivating that culture of curiosity for
knowledge amongst youth in Ontario (https://www.ontario.ca/page/research-funding). Although
the primary target for this outreach component is high school students, as they
are the more responsive to comprehensive mentoring experiences, youth is
defined as students in grade one through  grade twelve (MRIS, 2017).  The youth engagement section is considered as
part of the adjudication process under research impact which motivates
applicants to carefully consider their youth outreach plan and activities  (https://www.ontario.ca/page/research-funding). Funded
projects are required to provide the ministry with reports on progress, milestones,
and outcomes regarding their funded projects as well as their youth outreach
plan to ensure they are delivering what they have written in their applications
(MRIS, 2017).   Youth Engagement and OutreachThe youth engagement in the Research
Excellence and ERA research programs has been a part of the program
requirements since 2005-6. In the mid 2000’s Ontario’s flagship youth
engagement program, Youth Science and Technology Program (YSTOP), was losing
momentum; however, many other organizations dedicated to promoting youth
outreach in the STEM field had been actively engaging youth. Many institutions hosted
open house and visit programs, facilitating and promoting youth engagement in
the sciences Ontario. For the Ministry, the requirement of a youth engagement
component for funded projects has a number of benefits (MRIS, 2017). Firstly,
it ensures youth engagement in Ontario funded research projects, in the absence
of a specific program with that mandate, with a very modest allocation of
resources. Secondly, it prompts researcher to engage with programs like Let’s
Talk Science and Science Rendezvous that specialize in delivering exciting
hands-on STEM learning experiences to children and youth (http://outreach.letstalkscience.ca/). Lastly, it encourages creative and costs effective
activities and approaches. The ORF- RE application requires a
detailed Youth Outreach Plan. The program allows for the allocation of up to1%
of the project budget towards outreach; however, the allocation of funds is not
a requirement. The ERA program also allows for an allocation of up to 1% of the
Ontario funding (up to a maximum of $1000) towards Youth Outreach Plan.
Proposals must outline a detailed plan and include allocation of funding the
proposed budget. Researchers have a great deal of flexibility
when it comes to their approach to designing a youth outreach plan as there are
a variety of ways to engage youth. On the  integrate
students into their projects.For those researchers who cannot , they could
involve graduate students in outreach program design and delivery.  Applicants
can engage youth audience Researchers can:
engage
youth audiences as well as educators and the general public both on-campus
and in the local community
expand on
current outreach activities, or start new initiatives with an emphasis on
activities that are free to youth and the public
partner
with other researchers in their institution(s) to undertake a broader
outreach initiative
participate
in outreach activities operated by other organizations, such as science
awareness organizations
involve
graduate students in outreach program design and delivery
apply
provincial contributions to expenses incurred in developing and delivering
the outreach activity, e.g. consumable supplies, development of working
models, mileage
Outreach
activities can also include such initiatives as speaking opportunities,
lecture series, workshops and demonstrations, student competitions and lab
mentorship.
·       (https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-research-fund-research-excellence-program-guidelines)  Comparing Ontario’s Approach with a Jurisdictional Survey (Appendix A)A
jurisdictional review identified a wide variety of outreach programs aimed at
youth. The most common approach to youth outreach internationally was through
programs that resembled Canada’s “Let’s Talk Science” program with a mandate to
raise the profile of STEM, supporting outreach and organizing events at public
Universities.(2)  These agencies and organizations often resemble Let’s
Talk Science with a similar blend of public, private and charitable funding,
and a similar mandate.(3) The NIH funds a variety of youth outreach projects
which are generally defined by an area of research, for example the (***NIH
CANCER****) and a targeted group (youth at risk, minority communities). These
projects follow the promotion and facilitation model.A notable exception to this is
the UK, where a public outreach component is required for projects from the
application stage. (4) While youth engagement is not exclusively required, at
least one funding line (the Science and Technology Facilities Council) have a youth
engagement option, with a budget of up to £600 (~$1000 CAD) available for
engagement activities aimed at youth (5). A review of national research
funding had scant reference to youth engagement at the program level.(6)
 Let’s Talk Science and Science Rendezvous are largest national profile. A brief youth enegagament survey was done to evaluate and
compare the outreach programs other jurisdictions in Canada and globally. A review of
national and international jurisdictions was made of research funding programs
looking for a youth engagement requirements/suggestions in the program and
application guidelines. We also looked for programs that followed the promotion
and facilitation model seemed to be funded through a mix of public, private and
charitable sources.  In Canada a
review of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec was undertaken. Each province’s
“Let’s Talk Science” program was included to highlight the institutions engaged
in each jurisdiction. Internationally a
review of Australia, Bermuda, Ireland, United Kingdom, and the United States
was done, where application/program guidelines were reviewed for requirements
to engage in either broad public or specific youth engagement. Programs that
follow the promotion and facilitation model were noted when found.In BC for example, B.C. Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF): The BCKDF
is the government’s primary capital investment to support of research
infrastructure in B.C. The BCKDF provides funding for public post-secondary
institutions, research hospitals and affiliated non-profit agencies. Guidelines
do not refer to youth or general community outreach. http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/technology-innovation/bckdfOther B.C.
Research and Innovation Investments: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/technology-innovation/research-and-innovation-investmentsYouth
Engagement Toolkit: The Toolkit was designed to support BC Government Ministry staff
and community partners to engage young people at an organizational level and
make them genuine partners in their work. It does not specifically reference
STEM programs or research projects for youth; however, the province of B.C. has
helped develop this toolkit for any organization to better facilitate youth
engagement.http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/family-and-social-supports/data-monitoring-quality-assurance/information-for-service-providers/youth_engagement_toolkit_overview.pdfLet`s Talk
Science Outreach: Classroom and community visits to deliver curriculum-aligned
activities. Customized workshops are tailored to different STEM-related topics
of interests for youth (preschool to grade 12). Activities are run jointly by
Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and University of British
Columbiahttp://outreach.letstalkscience.ca/category/british-columbia.html      Conclusions  The
number of young Ontarians exposed to the work and methods of scientists through
the ERA and RE programs is substantial. The number of researchers willing to do
numerous and varied outreach activities over the life of their projects in both
programs is encouraging. While institutional open house events and Let’s Talk
Science were both common activities, very few projects limited their activities
to just these events. Given the very modest budget usage (with only 1 in 4
projects using the full $1000 available in ERA and XXX using the full % in RE)
the outcomes reported are quite striking. In 2015-16 Let’s Talk Science engaged
260,000 students nationally. Based on reporting ERA and RE engaged around
60,000 students each year since 2006. Given this the two programs have engaged
~120,000 students over 2015-16 just in Ontario. Projects using Let’s Talk
Science partner for activities will be double counted in this comparison, but
both programs utilized Let’s Talk Science at 5% of their total activities.What
seems clear is the requirement of youth engagement planning at the proposal
stage of a project, with the provision of some funds, cab produce remarkable
results.   Recommendations As the Ontario Research Fund Programs are under review,
there are many questions as to how youth engagement can be improved or if it
should be kept as a required component at all.   Looking at some facts and statistics, it is safe to say that the outreach
is successful:Total number of Ontario Elementary and High School students engaged in
ORF-RE and ERA outreach to date: 585,000Number of ORF-RE and ERA research team members involved in outreach
activities to date: 6000Other individuals engaged (including teachers, undergraduate students and
the general public other than high school and elementary students): 97,000 Some
suggested areas for further consideration/discussion:
Provision for extra expenses above 1% where rural
and/or northern communities are targeted
An online resource for applicants with some
outstanding ideas and creative activities
A survey /interview looking for stories and
reflections from recipients.
Ensuring youth engagement is an important part of
the roadshow information sessions and materials
Seeking adjudication expert/panel input and
comments where possible.
Weighing the value of
internships, placements and mentorships, which would produce lower numbers
but should produce higher quality out comes (See: Hynenen’s projects)
  

References

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